Lithuanian Heritage Abroad: Challenges and Achievements

The participants of the discussion. Photo: National Library of Lithuania

A round table discussion about Lithuanian heritage outside Lithuania organized by the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania on January 26, 2018, was a good opportunity to assess not only the situation of the Lithuanian heritage abroad and to identify the challenges and problems, but also to talk about the achievements and the future work.

Augustinas Žemaitis, the leader of the project “Destination – America,” ​​started the event. He told about a 16-day trip to the United States that he took last fall visiting Lithuanian places, recording material heritage and listening to the stories of local people of Lithuanian descent. Žemaitis, who has been interested in Lithuanian heritage outside Lithuania for five years, is convinced that his project is important not only to Lithuanians in the US, but also Lithuania. In his opinion, it is necessary to find new ways of preserving the Lithuanian heritage abroad. He suggested volunteering or tourism as good tools to do it.

Ramojus Kraujelis, the Chief Archivist of Lithuania, noted that today, unfortunately, there are no resources to describe Lithuanian heritage abroad. He commended the private initiative “Destination – America” and proposed to continue this project covering not only US but other countries which also have many objects of Lithuanian material culture.

Despite the lack of financial and human resources in Lithuania and abroad, a number of projects have already been accomplished in this area. In 2010-2011, a joint plan was created with Lithuanians living abroad regarding the Lithuanian archives in emigration. Its goal is to identify and describe Lithuanian heritage in the US, Australia and other countries. Each year, at least one and usually two groups of Lithuania’s archivists travel to different places to identify and describe Lithuanian heritage. Mr. Kraujelis also pointed a new trend, according to him, more and more of the written cultural heritage accumulated in the emigration finds its new home in Lithuania. Only recently, Lithuania has received a few hundreds of boxes with such material from Australia. Brazil is also expecting the archivists from Lithuania.

A Lithuanian American Arvydas Reneckis, who is currently filming a documentary about the history of Lithuanians in the US and who in the discussion represented the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center (Chicago, USA), said that the Center is one of the most important Lithuanian cultural institutions in North America. “If we move the entire heritage accumulated for several decades to Lithuania, we will wipe out ourselves,” Mr. Reneckis said. Instead of rushing, he suggested to start with one precedent which would serve as an example for future joint projects. He had already started negotiations with the Lithuanian Central State Archives about the digitization of audio and video archives held at the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center.

Ramūnas Kondratas, the director of the Vilnius University Museum, did not hide the fact that the Lithuanian heritage abroad (in particular, in the United States) is undergoing difficult times, for example, there is a huge problem of where to store archives or unfit storage conditions. According to Mr. Kondratas, it is very important to immediately start digitizing written and audio-visual heritage and make it accessible online for everyone.

The participants acknowledged the necessity of a private initiative in preserving Lithuanian heritage abroad. As one participant noted, personal interest runs much further and deeper than a paid one, and the project “Destination – America” ​​is a great proof of it.